By Bobby Bush
Finally made it into Sacramento proper just about sunset. After checking into the Old
Town Holiday Inn, I wheeled my spiffy intermediate size rental car out of the exit-less
parking garage and headed east on Folsom Boulevard where a great big, repulsive smiley
face sunshine stood guard over the doorway to Hoppy Brewing Company. The original
Hoppy beers were brewed under contract back in July 1994 in Southern California. As
sales in the bay area grew, a San Jose brewery took over as contract brewer. That
program lasted until June ‘99 when a struggling brewpub became the new home of Hoppy.
Founded in 1995 as Hop Street Bistro & Brewery, this large brewpub with an
equally large brewhouse fit Hoppy Brewing’s needs. An ample bar surrounded by plenty
of dining area instills a family restaurant atmosphere. And the beers are user-friendly as
Though the bartender was a bit snarly when I ordered the sampler tray, he served
up eight tiny snifters of brew. His attitude seemed to improve as I sampled each one,
scribbling notes onto my trusty pad. Golden State Light, the obvious tricycle beer, was
light, just flirting with flavor. Liquid Sunshine Blonde Ale, one of Hoppy’s three core
products, was brewed with “a little wheat, a little rye.” Basically, Liquid’s a quality pale
ale on the light side with respectable hop character. Kings “Jon Barry” Ale, which only
packs 3% abv, is an unauthorized tribute to the NBA Sacramento King’s guard. To make
this berry beer, a touch of blackberry extract was added to the Golden Light resulting in a
tart tongue with a hint of berry taste at the end. Shannon’s “Fortune-Telling” Alt, named
for Hoppy’s hostess/prognosticator, was too bitter for this malty German ale style. Hoppy
Face Amber Ale, another core beer, was medium bodied with a swift hop slap at finish,
while Rasta Red Ale, brewed with four malts, had an intricate semi-sweet flavor. Total
Eclipse Black Ale, the final core product, was somewhat light in body but full of roasted
malt and coffee flavor. It came off like a Cream Stout/Imperial Stout hybrid. Black Smith
Oatmeal Stout, smooth from nitrogen, presented a harsh coffee flavor punctuated by
Chinook hops bitterness from mid-taste on. Unfortunately, the ‘97 GABF silver medal
winning Hoppy Claus Holiday Ale, a 7.8% brew spiked with Celestial Seasonings Bengal
Spice Tea, was not available. (Check www.hoppy.com).
I thanked the by-now friendly bartender and headed to Old Town Sacramento,
where the Sacramento Valley’s very first brewpub awaited. I first visited Hogshead
Brewpub almost ten years ago. I can testify that this downstairs tourist trap has not
changed a bit since it opened in 1985. That they are still brewing is the not the only
mystery. Budmillercoors, cheap rent and biker bands must keep Hogshead going. The
beers are generally disappointing and sometimes bad, as was the sour Porter I tried this
time. It was almost undrinkable at 8.0% abv. Other tantalizing brews included Pale Ale,
Cherry Pale Ale, Hog Stout, Light Lager and Raspberry Porter. Creativity and brewing
are not Hogshead’s specialties.
Thirsty for a good beer, I stopped in for a nightcap at River City Brewing
Company, located in the Downtown Plaza, an indoor-outdoor mall. An upscale
restaurant with decent beers, this sleek brewpub has been brewing in a two level
brewhouse-behind-the-bar since 1993. Several German style lagers- Pilsner, Vienna and
the strong, caramel Dopplebock -joined well-brewed UK ales like the foam-decked, sultry
Oatmeal Stout and 5.0% abv Pale Ale on the beer agenda. Wine is popular; the bar has no
mixed drinks. A wood fired pizza oven has its own bar. Patrons were entertained by high
flying pizza dough, which once or twice missed its tosser’s futile grasp and landed splat on
the floor below.
I listened unnoticed to a pair of Great White Northland-like yokels, sporting wool
toboggans, gapped dentures and beer-fueled smiles. Oblivious to the suits and dresses
yuppiedom around them, their convoluted conversation intensified my lingering jet lag. I
sauntered out the door to my hotel half block away. Location is everything.
(The journey continues: Sacramento).
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush